How important is feeling secure in the saddle? Extremely—in fact, you can’t be on the fast track to fun with horses if you’re feeling scared and unconfident. My solution for riders who feel uncomfortable is what I call my independent-seat exercise. It’s an activity you can do while riding your horse to develop a more balanced seat, which in turn boosts your in-saddle security and confidence.
I love this exercise so much, I do it myself!
Having an independent seat means being able to ride your horse without needing to hold on with your hands or cling with your legs. So no matter what your horse does or where he goes, you’ll feel confident you can keep your body centered and balanced in the saddle.
I talk riders through this five-minute activity in my private lessons, horsemanship clinics, and demonstrations. You can practice it anytime while riding your horse at a walk or trot.
Why It Works
This exercise requires you to do a lot more than just sit there in the saddle. Why is this important? We need to get comfortable moving around some on top of our horses to develop the muscle memory it takes to stay balanced and centered, which in turn gives us that independent seat.
Riders often don’t move around much. This exercise pushes you to do something different from what you normally would do while riding. It nudges you to the edge of your comfort zone, which is where growth happens—just at and slightly outside that zone.
How to Do It
Ride your horse on the rail at a walk. Sit up straight, holding the reins in one hand. With your free hand, grasp the saddle horn and stand up in your stirrups. As you hold the horn and your horse walks underneath you, concentrate on feeling his movement. Then sit for a few strides, then stand again. Stand and sit several times like this while holding the horn for balance.
Next, while standing balanced as your horse is walking, let go of the horn. Put your free hand straight out to your side and just balance there while your horse walks. Then sit for a few strides, then stand again, without touching the horn. Practice using your balance and your leg and core muscles to keep you centered and stable.
When you’ve got that down, tackle it at a slow trot, repeating all the same steps. Specifically, you’ll sit, then stand while holding the horn, then eventually let go of the horn while standing—again, free arm straight out, finding your balance. You’re building your muscle memory for balance and developing the leg and core muscles you need to help stay secure.
Finally, kick your feet out of the stirrups and repeat the steps again at the trot. While you’re riding with no stirrups, practice keeping your form the same as if you did have stirrups. Don’t just let your legs dangle and flop around; use correct leg positioning as you wrap your legs securely around your horse. Then practice picking up your stirrups again while your horse jogs around.
Once you’ve mastered standing and balancing without the horn and even without stirrups, you’re ready for the bonus test—posting without stirrups! (Posting, of course, is rising slightly up and forward every other stride at the trot.) This is super hard, especially if you haven’t done it before.
At first, if you’re able to get five continuous posting strides, you’re doing amazingly well—congratulations! Work up to being able to post around the entire arena. With repetition over time, this will supercharge your balance and your leg and core muscles, helping you develop a truly and reliably independent seat.
Trisha Shields starts and trains horses alongside her husband, D. J., at Secret Acres Equine Boarding and Training facility in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. Trisha competes in extreme mustang makeovers and rodeos. Her lessons and clinics help students achieve confidence and enjoyment with their horses (shieldshorsemanship.com).